‘Black Narcissus’ by Rumer Godden

Set in a crumbling palace high in the mountains, Rumer Godden’s Black Narcissus has been hailed as a modern gothic classic. The Sisters of Mary – a group of young Irish Catholic nuns – travel to the Himalayas to convert ‘The House of Women’ – formerly home to the General’s harem – into a convent. The novel is darkly atmospheric, and an underlying tension and eroticism can be felt throughout.

I did enjoy this novel. But thing is, I can’t help thinking I might have enjoyed the film more. I realise that this is a controversial thing to say in the company of book lovers, but the thing is, contrary to popular assumption (and to popular tote bag slogans), I have always been of the opinion that the book is not always better. Just look at Jurassic Park. I should probably confess at this point that I haven’t actually seen the 1947 film adaptation of Black Narcissus; I just happen to know that it is hailed as a masterpiece of modern cinema and, well, I didn’t really get ‘masterpiece’ from the book. There’s a strong possibility, of course, that I simply built the whole thing up too high in my head from the off; I mean, it’s a gothic tale of nuns, sex, and death! What could go wrong?! I did feel that it was very atmospheric, very erotic, and it certainly appealed to my gothic sensibilities. And yet… there was something missing for me. I’d be really very interested to hear your thoughts on this one, so do please weigh in!

Rumer Godden

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